Are China’s Data on Fish Stocks Reliable?

The BBC recently reported on a dispute between Canadian researchers and China over China’s official fish catch figures.

The Canadian researchers published a study in Nature recently suggesting that world fish stocks were likely much lower than previously estimated, largely because the researchers contended that China’s figures on its annual fish catch were unreliable and exaggerated.

Over the past ten years, the Chinese fish catch has steadily increased which the researchers claimed was “unrealistic.”

For its part, China responded by claiming that the statistics are in fact. Chinese official Yang Jian told the BBC that fishing was such a small part of the Chinese economy that there wouldn’t be any incentive for local officials to falsify data.

On the other hand, exaggerating data seems to be endemic among Chinese bureaucrats, so they might just be exaggerating such data out of sheer habit.


China says ‘fake’ fishery statistics correct. The BBC, December 18, 2001.

China Leads World in Imprisoning Journalists

A new report by the Committe to Protect Journalists says that China leads the world in imprisoning journalists. China accounted for 22 of the 87 journalists imprisoned worldwide.

The CPJ report noted that China seems to have hardened its stance against journalists over the past couple years, likely in response to the chaos created by rapid Internet adoption.

In previous years, the Chinese government made concessions to international public opinion by carefully stage-managing the release of prominent dissidents, including journalists, at critical moments. Authorities took a harder line in 2000, when not a single journalist was released.

Other countries which had jailed journalists as of December 2000 were,



Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo

The number of imprisoned journalists has fallen dramatically since 1998, when 118 journalists were imprisoned, but these numbers do underestimate the problem since they only count journalists who were still in prison at the end of 2000. A much larger number of journalists were imprisoned for at least part of 2000 but released before the end of the year.

Of course arrest isn’t the only way of intimidating journalists. Last year 24 journalists were killed around the world either in the act of reporting on a story or in retaliation because of their reporting or affiliation with a news organization. The murder of journalists breaks down like this,



Sierra Leone
Sri Lanka

Additionally another 20 journalists were murdered worldwide, but the motive for those murders remains unclear.


Attack on the Press in 2000. Committee to Protect Journalists, 2000.

China: ‘Leading jailer’ of journalists. The BBC, March 19, 2001.

PETA Sues Rosie O'Donnell

Last week People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued talk show host and actress Rosie O’Donnell for defamation after O’Donnell claimed PETA endorses the use of some leather products.

PETA and O’Donnell became entangled after O’Donnell decided to proclaim a “wear leather day” on her show. Many animal rights activists and groups, including PETA, decided to go after O’Donnell, declaring “wear leather day” as promoting cruelty to animals.

On a recent episode O’Donnell told her talks how audience that The Gap used leather approved by PETA. According to PETA spokeswoman Lisa Lange, “There’s no such thing as PETA-approved leather,” and PETA announced a lawsuit seeking an on-air retraction of O’Donnell’s statement as well as $350,000 in damages.

The only problem is that O’Donnell is absolutely right — The Gap does use PETA-approved leather and the lawsuit is completely frivolous.

Earlier in the year PETA launched a campaign to convince The Gap to stop using leather obtained from China and India. PETA argued quite vociferously that animals killed for leather in China and India are treated cruelly, and that it would be better for The Gap to buy leather from countries with higher animal welfare standards.

When The Gap caved in to PETA’s demands, the organization trumpeted its great victory. Now, however, PETA wants to run away from this victory when O’Donnell correct points out that The Gap uses PETA-approved leather.

The bottom line is that this lawsuit is simply just another publicity stunt from a group that excels at such stunts.


Animal rights group sues O’Donnell. The Associated Press, December 6, 2000.

Exodus of Pharmaceutical Companies from the UK Begins

When anti-abortion protests in the United States made it impossible to manufacture the controversial drug RU-486 in that country, an agreement was reached to produce it in China. Faced with ongoing animal rights and anti-genetic modification protests in the United Kingdom, pharmaceutical company Nycomed-Amersham recently did the same. This week it announced it would be moving all of its genetic research facilities to China.

Not only does China welcome genetic research, which it sees as important in improving crop yields among other things, but it will also be cheaper for Nycomed-Amersham to operate in China — the company estimates cost savings for employing 1,000 PhD-level researchers at $50 million a year.

Parts of the genetic research outfit will also be moved to Brazil and patents on any resulting therapies or drugs will be patented in China and Brazil.

In a story about the move, The Financial Times of London reported that last year Pfizer’s William Steer complained that “Europe seems to be entering a period of the dark ages, where witchcraft and sorcery are prevailing. There’s a definite anti-science attitude in Europe that is not as pronounced in the U.S.”

If Europe doesn’t come to its senses quickly it could find more drug companies moving research operations to the developing world and China, Brazil and other developing countries might relegate the continent to also-rans when it comes to cutting edge scientific discoveries.


Genetic research to move overseas. David Firm, The Financial Times of London, November 14, 2000.

China’s Religious Dilemma

In mid-February China issued
an analysis of its own human rights record that was a classic study in
Communist follies. The same day the Chinese government issued the report
— which claimed among other things that Chinese citizens enjoy a level
of democracy and freedom unprecedented in world history — the Chinese
government sentenced pro-democracy activist Liu Shizu to six years in
jail for trying to set up branches of the outlawed China Democracy Party.
Apparently the constitutional guarantees of the right to free association
and free speech, which the human rights report extolled, have yet to be
communicated to China’s judiciary.

China today faces much the
same problem that former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev faced. Freedom
works — open and democratic societies are flourishing. Dictatorships
also work to a large extent — North Korea is proof that if a government
is willing to take the necessary measures, dictatorships can survive even
the most sever privation.

But the middle road does not
work. Trying to make people half free inevitably leads to demands for
further freedom from the populace alongside demands for more curtailing
of freedom from elites (especially military elites). Gorbachev reached
a point where he had only two options — go forward with freedom or turn
back to hardline repression. He chose the former and the rest is history.
China’s leaders have put themselves on the same collision course.

China has seen its economy
take off with a loosening of official restrictions, but at the same time
its leaders have been shocked by the way individuals have used their newfound
freedom. One of the most disturbing trends has been a rise in religious
involvement by many Chinese, including significant numbers of government

The most publicized such movement
is the Falun Gong. Not quite a religion, Falun Gong combines mediation,
slow-motion exercises, and an eclectic set of views drawn from Buddhism,
Taoism and Falun Fong founder Li Hongzhi.

The group became very popular
in the late 1990s with even the Chinese government conceding it has at
least 2 million members and Falun Gong officials claiming up to 100 million

Whatever the merits of its
religious message, the Falun Gong certainly knows how to flex its muscle.
Complaining of harassment from the state and media, it organized a 10,000-person
protest in Tianamen Square in April of 1999 in which protesters surrounded
the main Communist Party headquarters. In July the Chinese government
responded by banning Falun Gong and beginning a round-up of its most important
members. According to the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human
Rights and Democratic Movement in China, more than 5,000 Falun Gong members
have been sent to labor camps without trial and another 300 have been
sentenced to prison terms of up to 18 years.

The week before China published
its report praising its human rights record, the government arrested 500
Falun Gong adherents in Beijing just prior to the start of the Lunar New

What certainly makes Chinese
leaders fearful is the emergence of any movement that is not completely
dependent on the Communist Party. Since the Communists came to power in
China they have paid special attention to religious institutions, generally
permitting such institutions provided they are subservient to the state.

This is what motivates much
of China’s interaction with Tibetan Buddhism for example. China suffered
an embarrassing loss in January when it was revealed that the 14-year-old
Karampa fled Tibet and made a harrowing 8 day trek to India. The Karampa
is the third most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that
their highest religious leaders are reincarnated and when one dies his
successor is identified by divination. The Chinese government has intervened
in this process and attempted to force Tibetans Buddhists to select leaders
it thinks it can groom into pro-Chinese religious figures, thereby keeping
Tibetan Buddhism under state control. So far, China has had little success
doing so in Tibet.

Its success in controlling
Roman Catholicism is also modest. In 1951 China forced the Catholic Church
under the state and only recognizes Christians who belong to denominations
approved by the state. Still, China has never been able to completely
get rid of a parallel independent structure maintained by Catholics who
continue to have allegiance to the Vatican.

In between suppressing the
Falun Gong and seeing the Karmapa slip through its fingers, the Chinese
government sent about 150 police to arrest Archbishop John Yang Shudao
in mid-February. Shudao has spent much of his life in and out of Chinese
prisons for, among other things, refusing to denounce the Pope and has
long been part of the independent Catholic Church in China that the government
has tried to destroy.

Unfortunately China is at odds
with its own policies. The openness and relaxation of state repression
that fueled its economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s is precisely what
has led to the explosion in religious expression in China. The government
will find it impossible to suppress the one without also suppressing the


China hails human rights leap forward. The BBC, February 17, 2000.

Communist China losing ground in battle with religion. The Associated
Press, January 17, 2000.

China jails Falun Gong member for 9 years. Reuters, February 14, 2000.

Arrest of bishop seen as latest signs of crackdown in China. The Associated
Press, February 15, 2000.

Report: 2,000 members of banned sect detained in past 5 days. The Associated
Press, February 10, 2000.

China combats ‘hostile forces’ wielding religion. The Associated Press,
January 11, 2000.

Another Chinese spiritual group ‘faces suppression’. The BBC, January
19, 2000.

China’s airbrush aimed at history. The Christian Science Monitor, January
28, 2000.

China moves to control Internet. The BBC, January 26, 2000.

Burlington Coat Factory Contributes to HSUS

Stung by revelations that
some of its fur-trimmed parkas were made with dog fur, Burlington Coat Factory announced in December it was giving $100,000 to the Humane Society of the United States. to help that group lobby for a federal ban on the
commercial sale of cat and dog fur.

What is Burlington Coat Factory

Certainly the companyÂ’s anger
is understandable; most of the coats were made in China and the company
had no idea dog fur was being used. Burlington did the right thing in
offering to take back the coats from customers who were misled. But to
donate $100,000 to a group dedicated to making sure no animal products
are used in the production of clothes makes no sense, except as a crass
publicity maneuver.

And one that will certainly
backfire, as executives may already be finding out. As numerous animal
rights activists have pointed out, BurlingtonÂ’s support of a ban on cat
and dog fur is extremely hypocritical. If it is wrong to use cat and dog
fur on coats, isnÂ’t it wrong to use fur from other animals as well? Why
isnÂ’t Burlington lobbying for a ban on leather coats if it is suddenly
so committed to the rights of animals?

Those who deal with animals
canÂ’t have it both ways. Researchers canÂ’t claim itÂ’s okay for them
to experiment on and eventually kill animals for the important medical
knowledge such activities provide, but it is wrong for others to eat animals
or use them for clothing. Hunters canÂ’t go on at length about the mystical
experiences they have in the wilderness, but turn around and argue what
medical researchers do is completely different (so long as, in both examples,
the guidelines for treating the animals are similar – one need not argue
that in order to be consistent an animal researcher or hunter must approve
of the individuals who harm animals solely for the sadistic pleasure of
doing so).

Adrian Morrison, president
of the National Animal Interest Alliance
has coined the term “muddled middle” to describe such positions.
As Morrison wrote in a recent NAIA newsletter:

Those opposing animal use and those questioning the quality of animal
use (traditional animal welfarists) blended into a new grouping, the
animal protection community. And with that came the call to seek a common
ground, to abandon polemics for the sake of the animals. And so was
created (conveniently) a muddled middle, inhabited by those who do not
see that a middle ground between use and non-use of animals is a logical
impossibility . . . The muddled middle does not have a clear understanding
of how a variety of uses fit into a coherent whole: the necessary participation
of humans, and most especially modern humans, in the intricacies of
Nature. At the same time, we who choose to use animals for pleasure
and those who do so out of necessity must do so responsibly.

Ironically, this is a small area of agreement with the animal rights
activists . . . the use of animals in human society either stands or falls
as a whole in this writerÂ’s opinion. If fur is an abomination, certainly
leather is as well. If using animals in circuses (provided they are treated
responsibly) is wrong, I donÂ’t see how seeing eye dogs for the blind become
defensible except through some incredibly complex utilitarian calculus
that few people would find coherent, much less workable.